Mark Pritchard recalls the wonderful adventures and conversations of night of November 9th, 2012…
Notes from the Bunker/Lady Diana’s Bathroom
We met in Fed Square on a drizzly Friday evening, and entered the bowels of one of Melbourne’s key tourist hubs. The dress-code was ‘dilapidated beauty’ – aristocrats eating cabbage soup while wearing all our diamonds.
Listening to rants about the power of thought, art and aesthetics by poet Laureate Ted Hughes and philosopher Slavoj Zizek we were shown through the bunkers and air conditioning ducts underneath the square as well as given a comprehensive overview of the ancient aqueduct system that governs the heating and cooling labyrnth.
Following this we made our way to the Arts Centre where donning moustaches, pearls and monocles we ate cheese around the latrine of the People’s Princess in the John Truscott Lounge, replete with his two Oscars and discussed the problems in how we define beauty.
Does public art lose value through out its life? The value of the work is at its highest when the ribbon is cut, the statue unveiled, and then these works sit, stagnate, become lost in the pursuit of newness, mute fixtures in a city’s landscape. Does a piece of public art ever have the power it had at the moment of conception?
Rather than creating something new, we need to find ways of extending the life of pre-existing works. Not just through restoration, but activation/s - public performances and creative engagements for example that open the work out. We need to find a balance between preservation and development.
We are working in an age where art is being pushed towards functionality, often seeking to articulate the social or economic value as being crucial to artistic merit. Have we lost the value of beauty, and beauty for its own sake? Why is beauty such a divisive word in contemporary artistic practice?
Canberra is theoretically the most artful architecture in Australia, because of its sense of unity and arrangement. It has been consciously created and beautified. Beauty is often the grand gesture – the symmetry and perfection of line and form. In architecture, beauty is generally used in reference to the Renaissance period.
But eclecticism cannot be orchestrated – beauty in contemporary urban environments must value the old as well as the new, and start to appreciate discordant above the streamlined.
At the heart of beauty is the satisfaction of yearning.
What does Melbourne yearn for? What are we lacking?
The response: My next project.
The yearning is the reason we get up in the morning. The thing that only we can do.
Perhaps we will slow this pursuit of newness if we cared more for the works that are being created. People feeling involved in what’s being created will make them more invested in it, extending its life. The desire to care for something might overpower the impulse to replace it.
There is a sense here that simple gestures are powerful, and simple offers can garner public involvement.
But who is gonna bring the stones to the city? We lingered here in the problematic territory of the here/there mentality that occurs within the greater city of Melbourne. The city doesn’t stop at the edges of the CBD. Highways destroy community. People just passing through without stopping destroys the sense of unity and commonality in a space that is vital for community to thrive.
Initiating a new trend is not an easy thing to do – you can’t manufacture it. The laneway art trend sprung out of necessity and resourcefulness and the pleasure of illegality, and we are now constantly being pressed to replicate it.
We want grander narratives as provocations for artists. We are sick of the standard vocabulary of ‘newness’ and ‘innovation’. These terms are exhausted and meaningless. What is our obsession with creating something new?
The history of human civilisation demonstrates an unwillingness to leave our environment alone.
And now public art is being pressured to solve social and economic problems.
Perhaps the desire to cultivate is a slave to consumer forces.
Paris improves itself, without necessarily becoming new.
How do we improve a space without making something new?
In Collingwood, they’ve turned a parking lot into a park – Joni Mitchell would be proud.
Making the Invisible Visible
It’s time to confront the third space, because the third space is what got us here today. In our cities, we want to see the sewerage pipes on the outside, to publicise their role in our lives.
Moscow is form and function. It is Bauhaus to the extreme. The entire city is air-conditioned by a central system that no one has a valve to adjust.
Precipice number three needs to take us to a sewerage plant. The turning on and off of valves in a sewerage plant is a symphonic event. The technical energy, the mathematics, the systems are like macro organisms cycling, breathing, processing.
We need to deregulate the thing that has been over-regulated. Deregulation will lead the rejuvenation, and liberation.
But no one ever makes a big plaque for something being deregulated, or even rejuvenated. We commemorate and celebrate the moment of conception, the beginning, the founding, but don’t seem able to give the same weight to the thing itself throughout its life.
Overregulation is demanding that we make audiences conscious of the fact they are being influenced and effected by something. The backers need the immediate feedback, the councillors need to have invested significantly, notably, sizeably.
The leap for a funding body, otherwise, is too big to make
Architects never make the choice not to build. Art, perhaps, needs to decide not to make an intervention.
Permaculture has a principle that there is meant to always be a space with no purpose in a garden– with only anarchy, only nature. And this territory is crucial – this is the space in which we learn and experiment.
But how do we start evaluating non-space?
Are we humans the only species evaluating the worth of these ‘under-developed’ spaces?
Pigeons value spaces as well.
What is the broccoli’s agenda?
We demand an answer, but can never know. The answer is known only to the broccoli. And as such we are faced with the eternal problem of branding chaos, branding non-space, justifying its quietus as an ‘activation’. Trying to develop it so that it can perhaps at some level stay undeveloped.
Is there a vital quota of unregulated space – between too much and too little – that is ideal for a city to thrive?
The kind of conversation we’re having tonight couldn’t exist in other countries. Beaurocracy is culturally entrenched – what’s easy here is difficult elsewhere, and vice versa.
Australia is a country that is still in process, we are young and have so much potential. We ‘re not Paris. Artistic conversation will be most exciting when we stop looking overseas for stimulation. European innovators are looking more and more to Australia as a blank canvas.
It’s got to not look like anywhere else in the world, but in a global economy we want interconnectedness.
We need to deregulate space so that artists can find new uses for it.
We need to seek an ephemeral and temporal occupation of space as important as structure.
We need to reinvent ‘not doing’ as opposed to ‘doing’
and in that: how do we frame ‘not doing’.
We need a social re-education about the value of unregulated space. Both artists, architects and funders.
Photos by Bryony Jackson
Precipice 2 took place on November 9th, 2012.